A British man was among at least 14 people killed when the Taliban attacked a Kabul guesthouse as foreigners gathered for a garden party, opening a lengthy standoff with security forces which ended in the early hours of Thursday morning.
The man, a dual British-Afghan national who has not yet been named, was working for the British Council in Afghanistan’s capital, which has seen a surge in attacks since the partial withdrawal of international troops last year. An American, and Italian, a Kazakh national and four Indians were among eight other foreigners killed, a number of whom were humanitarian workers.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond condemned the assault, for which a Taliban spokesman quickly claimed responsibility, saying it brought home once again “the courage and perseverance of the people of Afghanistan and members of the international community who support them”.
“These callous acts of terrorism against innocent civilians must not be allowed to threaten a more peaceful future for Afghanistan,” he added.
Afghan security forces inspect the site of the Park Palace Hotel (AP)
The attack on the Park Palace Hotel began on Wednesday night when at least one gunman stormed the building as some guests were eating dinner and others were arriving for the party. The guesthouse was quickly surrounded by police and soldiers, who managed to rescue at least 54 hostages during the five-hour siege, according to Afghan officials.
Five Afghans were also killed - four men and one woman - and seven were wounded.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement that the attack was carried out by a single shooter armed with an AK-47, a pistol and explosive materials, contradicting a statement from President Ashraf Ghani’s office that there were three assailants.
Mujahid said the group had targeted the party with the aim of killing foreign nationals as revenge for the US and its allies supporting Mr Ghani’s government.
Afghan police stand guard outside the Park Palace guesthouse after the attack (AP)
“The occupying forces should realise that they are not safe from our attacks under any cover or in any location,” he said.
Most foreign combat troops, including Britain’s, withdrew from Afghanistan by the end of last year, but the United States retains 9,800 military personnel in the country and President Barack Obama agreed with Mr Ghani in March that they would stay at least until the end of this year in response to the spring resurgence in attacks and to give further training to Afghan forces. A small number of British military trainers and advisers also remain in Kabul.
Horia Mosadiq, Afghanistan researcher at Amnesty International, said there had been a “a worrying spike in assaults carried out by the Taliban and other armed groups on 'soft targets’ across Afghanistan in recent weeks... resulting in a high civilian death toll.” He lamented in particular the targeting of aid workers, saying the Taliban were again targeting those committed to helping ordinary Afghans.